MORVEN — A local high school student has won a rare opportunity to attend the Disney Dreamers Academy next year.
Benjamin Tillman, 17, is an 11th-grader at Anson County Early College who participates in soccer, track and cross-country. Now, he is one of only 100 students from around the country who will get the chance to attend the academy.
He checked Facebook one day when Subrina Hough, a representative of the HOLLA! Center in Morven, tagged him and several other students in a post with information on the academy.
Tillman said the application included three short essay questions asking about himself, his dream in life and what he would tell comedian, author and television host Steve Harvey about his life if he had the chance.
For the first essay, Tillman identified himself as an honor roll student since elementary school who was inducted into the National Honor Society in both middle and high school.
“I enjoy interacting with others, so I am proud to be a delegate of student government,” he said. “My life also consists of being a member of marching band, a basketball manager, and an athlete in soccer, cross-country, and track and field. My enjoyment also comes from participating in my church by ushering, singing in the choir and participating in my youth praise worship team. I’m also the co-owner of my father’s photography business. It involves fixing computers in my community and taking pictures for weddings, family reunions, baby showers and other events.”
Tillman wrote that he plans to finish his associate’s degree through South Piedmont Community College when he graduates high school and then attend a major four-year school to major in computer engineering.
“After I become a computer engineer, I would like to build my own computers and computer software,” he wrote. “My goal is to be the next Steve Jobs… Although I do know what I want to be when I grow up, I would like to learn more successful traits from other students who are eager to learn and have passion and dedication towards pursuing their dreams.”
MAKING HIS FATHER PROUD
In the third essay, Tillman described how he has turned a personal tragedy into an experience to make him stronger.
“On Feb. 3, 2009, my life took a huge turn,” he wrote. “After just arriving at school, I was summoned to the office. Immediately, my instinct told me that something was terribly amiss. My sister signed me out, stood in front of me and said we needed to get to the hospital. Once arriving at the hospital, I noticed my entire family was gathered, and everyone’s eyes were filled with tears.
“A few hours later, my mother finally built the courage to tell us that our father had been admitted to the hospital and passed early that morning.”
Minister Benjamin Tillman Sr. had died when he suffered an aneurysm.
“To avoid depression, I thought about the differences my father made in society,” his son wrote in the application essay. “While seeing him put a smile on everyone’s faces by taking their pictures or fixing their computers, brought joy to my heart.”
Tillman now helps run his late father’s business, Ben Ben Productions.
“I recently took it over in an effort to begin trying to fill his shoes,” he wrote. “He always taught me that if you can dream it, you could achieve it. This has become my philosophy in life.”
HEARING THE NEWS
Part of Tillman’s dreams became a reality when he was browsing Facebook in school and saw the post from Disney listing the 2017 Disney Dreamers Academy roster and realized his name was on it. That same day, he received a package with paperwork he filled out and returned.
Tillman only told family, teachers and a few friends that he had applied, but didn’t waste any time in letting people know when he had won.
“I was overwhelmed,” he said in an interview. “I was shocked. I couldn’t believe I actually got picked. It seemed so unreal to me. It still is.
“I was in school when it happened,” he continued. “I was looking at my phone and found out I got accepted. My number one teacher who used to help me with it, I was in her class, and I told her, and she got excited and happy. She told my class, and they were happy and excited, and she told me to go around the whole school and tell everybody.”
His principal did an announcement with the news over the school intercom.
“I called my mother while she was at work, told her and she got all excited, crying over the phone,” he continued. “When I got home, I told my sisters.” He lives with his mother, three older sisters and his nephew.
Tillman was also sure to tell Hough, who had tagged him in the post on Facebook.
“I texted her on Facebook, and said, ‘Ms. Hough, remember the application?’” Tillman said. “I didn’t even tell her I’d applied for it. When I told her and showed her my name on the roster, she was freaking out and posted all these crying emojis. I could tell she was really shocked I had actually taken time to apply for it.”
Tillman said Hough often tags students in posts she believes offer students opportunities.
Tillman said he is excited to pass on what he learns.
“I hope to come back to my county and mentoring and motivational speeches they gave me to the whole community,” he said. “I hope to give it back to my community.”
Tillman already helps out, volunteering with HOLLA! by taking pictures and helping out at his church, House of Faith Outreach Ministries.
He said some students from previous academies return as mentors, and he is excited to meet them, as well.
“I think it’s a really huge boost, especially the networking part, for me to actually go down and talk to them,” he said. “It’s possible for them to do internships and stuff like that for when I graduate.”
He credits his father with getting him interested in his planned career path.
“It was a heartache for me, in that short period of time,” he said. “I was very young. I was going through a lot when he passed. I couldn’t think anymore. There was nothing I could do to get back on track. I was always a good student, but when it happened, I was like, ‘Why die my father like that?’ It was heartbreaking. I never thought I could overcome him passing away. It was heartbreaking. He was the whole reason for my goals and put me on path for technology, computers and cameras.
“He allowed me to shadow him, take pictures at certain events, and now I’m taking pictures for his business,” Tillman said. “He used to be really smart with computers. He made it look interesting.”
He will attend the academy with his mother, Cynthia.
The academy will be from March 9-12. There will be a variety of opportunities for students with various interests. Tillman signed up for the technology course.
According to disneydreamersacademy.com, students will hear guest speakers, participate in career sessions, network and learn to interview.
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.